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N85115 accident description

North Dakota map... North Dakota list
Crash location Unknown
Nearest city Ardoch, ND
48.231098°N, 97.308686°W
Tail number N85115
Accident date 18 Aug 1995
Aircraft type Piper PA-31-350
Additional details: None

NTSB Factual Report


On August 18, 1995, at 1642 central daylight time, a Piper PA-31- 350, N85115, being operated by Pietsch Flying Service of Minot, North Dakota, was destroyed by impact with trees, terrain, and a post impact fire, four miles east-southeast of Ardoch, North Dakota, during an encounter with weather. The pilot and a pilot rated passenger sustained fatal injuries. The positioning 14 CFR Part 91 flight was operating in instrument meteorological conditions. No flight plan was on file. The flight departed Thief River Falls, Minnesota, about 1625, with the intended destination of Minot, North Dakota.

Investigators from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Fargo Flight Standards District Office assisted in the investigation. They reported that they learned from talking to personnel at Pietsch Flying Service that the pilot had conducted a 14 CFR Part 135 operation prior to the accident flight and had deplaned passengers at Thief River Falls, Minnesota. They indicated that the pilot was anxious to return to his base of operations in Minot, North Dakota, to prepare for another trip to an air show the following day. They determined that he left Thief River Falls, Minnesota, for the return trip within a few minutes of his arrival there. The FAA investigators checked with FAA Flight Service and found no record of a weather briefing for the accident airplane around the time of the accident flight.

The owner of the property where the airplane accident occurred stated that although he did not witness the accident, he did live nearby and at the time of the accident there was a thunderstorm with heavy rain showers occurring.


Trees were damaged during the impact and post impact fire.


The pilot-in-command was born June 23, 1925. He was the holder of commercial and flight instructor certificates. He had accumulated 40,000 hours flight time, with 3,000 hours in this make and model of airplane. His most recent biennial flight review was three months prior to the accident. He was the holder of a second class medical certificate issued October 27, 1994.

The pilot rated passenger was born May 5, 1971. He was the holder of a commercial pilot certificate. He had accumulated 500 hours total flight experience with no previous time in make and model. He did not hold a multi-engine rating. His most recent biennial flight review was received when he successfully attained his commercial pilot's certificate three months prior to the accident. He was the holder of a second class medical certificate issued in December, 1994.


The airplane was a Piper PA-31-350, N85115, serial number 31- 7405182. The airplane had a accumulated 8,814 hours total time. The most recent 100 hour inspection was conducted on August 14, 1995, 40 hours prior to the accident.


Included as an addendum to this report are observations of Doppler radar by the University of North Dakota (UND) at Grand Forks, North Dakota, and a Meteorological Factual Report prepared by the NTSB.

The UND report indicated "21:41:54Z (Time of crash) The strong cell that was located south of the crash site a minute earlier moved north and was located just east of the crash site at this time. The reflectivity values increased slightly over the past minute from 44-46 dBZ to 46-48 dBZ. Attenuation was still a problem due to moderate rain at the radar site."

"The velocity display indicated that the center of the microburst moved to the north approximately 1 mile over the past minute placing the center of the microburst just 1.4 miles east- southeast of the crash site. The microburst also increased in intensity from 16 to 22 meters per second from 36 to 49 miles per hours."

"In my opinion, based on Doppler radar information only, I feel that the aircraft had a head wind from the time it encountered the gust front until approximately 1/2 mile east of Interstate 29 at which point it encountered the center of the microburst and was located directly under the downdraft. The aircraft then experienced a tail wind component until the time of the crash. While all of this was going on the visibility was most likely 1/8 to 1/4 mile due to heavy rain."


The aircraft fuselage was found upright on the west side of a crop field. The fuselage and wings had damage from impact and a post impact fire. A tree line to the east side of the field had tree top damage followed 210 feet to the west by a depression in the soft ground. At this point on the ground were slash marks on the left and right of the depression consistent with propeller strikes in the terrain. There was another ground scar 150 feet west of the first with a continuing mark on the ground terminating at the fuselage section at the west side of the field. The fuselage was lying on a heading of 015 degrees. The ground scar leading up to the fuselage was on a heading of 300 degrees.

The forward fuselage section sustained impact damage. The forward baggage area was crushed. The glareshield and the forward fuselage skin was opened exposing the back of the instrument panel and forward radio shelf. Both the pilot and co-pilot instrument panels were loose and had fire damage. All interior seats had been destroyed by fire. The upper fuselage skin had burned down to the bottom window line on both sides, from the windshield aft to the area of the aft fuselage bulkhead.

The left wing attach points suffered impact damage and had separated. The right wing forward attach points suffered impact and fire damage. Both wings suffered fire damage. The aileron bellcranks were found in place with control rods and cables. Both wing flaps and the landing gear were found retracted.

The left horizontal stabilizer and elevator showed minor impact damage. The right horizontal stabilizer had impact damage on the leading edge and was bent down about 45 degrees outboard of the elevator trim tab, locking the elevator in place. All elevator attach points were intact. The vertical stabilizer had impact damage to the left side aft of the de-ice boot. There was damage to the top of the vertical stabilizer consistent with tree strikes and one branch was found wedged between the rudder and vertical stabilizer. The rudder and attach points to the vertical stabilizer were intact.

The right engine was separated from the firewall and was found inverted, about 10 feet north of the firewall. The propeller and spinner remained attached to the engine. All three propeller blades were twisted, bent and loose. The cambered surfaces of each blade showed polishing. The turbocharger remained attached to the mount, but the entire unit was impacted with mud. The left engine separated during the impact sequence and lay 100 feet to the west of the fuselage while the propeller was found approximately 250 feet to the southeast of the fuselage. The engine was resting upright. The turbocharger remained attached to the mount and bent to the right. The turbine was free to rotate. The propeller received damage to the leading edges of the propeller and the blades were bent and twisted. There was polishing and gouging of the cambered surfaces.


An autopsy was performed on both the pilot and pilot rated passenger by Pathology Associates, Ltd., University Station, Grand Forks, North Dakota, on August 19, 1995. No contributing pathological findings were reported in the post mortem examinations. Toxicology examination was performed on specimens from the pilot and were negative for drugs screened.


A post impact fire destroyed the cabin and the rear cockpit section of the airplane.


Parties to the investigation were the Federal Aviation Administration, Flight Standards District Office, Fargo, North Dakota; Piper Aircraft, Vero Beach, Florida; Lycoming, Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

The wreckage was released to a representative of the owner on August 22, 1995.

NTSB Probable Cause

the pilot-in-command's continuing flight into adverse weather. Factors were the pilot-in-command's failure to obtain a weather observation and the adverse weather.

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